Today's question comes from Steffan, who emails …
Read your treatise (HERE and HERE) regarding aspiring T.V. writers ... Interesting. What about screenplay? Certainly you will say still "must move to L.A." but neither John Grisham nor Stephen King immediately moved out there. Sure, those are special cases of extreme talent who went from novel to screenplay but just saying ... .
Just like many folks live in one area and fly to others to work, I believe [making a career] is about focused precision on appointments, pitches, etc. Is it better to be out there? Sure it is ...
Your thoughts and other guidance/tips for novel/screenwriting?
Frankly, the drudgery of uninspiring reality shows and non-stimulating films and T.V. shows is depressing. When you have two shows a year that are dramatic, that are worthwhile, and five movies a year … is creativity not most important?!?!?
Perhaps the running down of America holds true and has permeated the industry.
Well, Steffan … let’s look at your use Stephen King and John Grisham as examples of screenwriters who didn't immediately move to L.A. First of all …
Stephen King and John Grisham are not screenwriters.
Stephen King was a best-selling, multimillion-dollar novelist first … before he dabbled in screenwriting. When you're a best-selling, multimillion-dollar anything, you have a kind of clout and power most other writers never have; if you say you want to write a particular screenplay, you can write the screenplay -- you're not clamoring to prove yourself. (But even now, Stephen King has written only a handful of scripts, and John Grisham hasn't really written any.)
So, you're not doing yourself, or your career-planning, any favors by using Stephen King and John Grisham as examples of people who broke into screenwriting while living someplace else.
If those are the role models you want to follow, fine … but then you should try being a novelist … because Stephen King and John Grisham were not aspiring screenwriters who found some clever backdoor into the industry.
If you can become the next Stephen King or John Grisham, then you can also live wherever you want. But living somewhere else and flying to L.A. pitch meetings is NOT a viable strategy for launching an actual career. It's not realistic or productive to say: "I want be a screenwriter … and I am going to do it by becoming one of the best-selling novelists of all time."
Now, do I have thoughts or tips for novelists and screenwriters? ...
Well, I'm not a novelist, so the only real advice I have is the advice I'd offer an aspiring writer in any medium:
WRITE YOUR ASS OFF.
DO NOT STOP WRITING.
NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOU THINK YOUR MATERIAL IS, IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Beyond that, for more business-y novel-writing advice, I'd refer you to my friend Brian Klems at Writer's Digest magazine. He writes "Questions & Quandries," a wonderful blog that takes reader questions and offers all kinds of business-y writing advice.
I'm also not a movie-writer, so there are definitely bloggers more qualified than I to answer movie questions … in particular John August, who has a great piece, "Writing For Hollywood Without Living There," HERE.
So, Steffan, I'll jump to the end of your email, where you ask:
When you have two shows a year that are dramatic, that are worthwhile, and five movies a year is creativity not most important?
I won't comment on the movies, because, well, as a (relatively) new father, I've only seen about five movies in the last two years. Plus, I'm a TV guy … and this is a TV blog … so I'll stick to TV.
But I hear this kind of thing a lot. Sometimes writers come in saying, "I'm just so sick of bad TV, I wanted to do something different."
Or: "There are so few good shows on TV, so I wanted to create something that was smart."
Or: "I'm not really a big TV-watcher, but …"
And to all of them, including you, Steffan, I say this:
What fucking television are you watching?!
There has never been a time in history when there have been more than phenomenal television shows on air at the same time!
"Only two worthwhile shows"?!
Do you not watch Mad Men, Dexter, Breaking Bad, The Killing, The Good Wife, The Walking Dead?! And those are just the "dramatic shows" I'm listing off the top of my head!
If you want to talk comedies, let's talk about Parks & Recreation, Louie, 30 Rock, Community, Modern Family.
TV is full of amazing shows right now! Even many of the older shows like CSI, Psych, How I Met Your Mother, and The Office are aging pretty damn well!
In fact, there's much more great TV than great movies in the theater!
So here's my point in all this …
As someone working in the industry, there's nothing more off-putting than when somebody comes to you, claiming they want to be a TV writer or producer, and says, "I think most of what you do is shit, and I want to do it, too. Will you hire me?"
And the same goes for screenwriters and filmmakers.
There's no better way to make sure you DON'T endear yourself to agents, producers, or writers than by spitting on what they do for a living.
Nobody wants to hire, or represent, a guy who says, "I think most of what you people do sucks. Now help me get in. Buy my project. Read my script. Give me a shot."
This doesn't mean you shouldn't think critically about the work you see … and it doesn't mean you can't dislike something (as long as you can articulate, intelligently, why you don't like it). But showrunners, screenwriters, producers, executives, and agents want to hire the guy who says:
"I love television (or movies)! I see all the great stuff out there and I get inspired! I want to be the next Greg Daniels … or J.J. Abrams … or Ryan Murphy … or Vince Gilligan!"
That's the person we're looking for … the person who's motivated out of passion, love and respect for the medium, the craft, and the professionals making content … NOT the person motivated out of disdain and disgust.
So if you think there only two worthwhile shows on TV right now … and there are only a handful of good movies in the theater … then I will say:
- You're wrong. And ...
- Don't bother trying to become a TV or screenwriter. Because you won't get in. And you probably don't deserve to.